Game of Thrones actually pulled it off. After years of imagining what it would be like on the screen, the show delivered its Battle of the Bastards — and it was insane. Transcending anything the HBO juggernaut has achieved before, this season’s brutal centrepiece was a pinnacle for the medium and once again reminded us, that when this show is on top form, it’s head and shoulders above anything else currently on the small screen.
The man tasked with executing the biggest scene in the show’s history was Miguel Sapochnik, the director from last season’s much-heralded Hardhome episode. Sapochnik spoke to Entertainment Weekly immediately following the episode’s transmission and revealed the process behind directing such an ambitious action sequence.
He said: “I watched every pitch field battle I could find (footage of real ones too), looking for patterns — for what works, what doesn’t, what takes you out of the moment, what keeps you locked in. The big reference was Akira Kurosawa’s RAN. Interestingly one of the things I noticed is that staging of these battles through the years has changed dramatically. Back in the day you’d see these huge aerial shots of horse charges and there were two big differences. First, it was all real — no CGI or digital replication. And second, often when the horses would go down, you can kind of tell they got really hurt. Nowadays you’d never get away with that, and nor would you want to.”
When asked about the toughest challenge of all in pulling it off, Sapochnik said: “The time factor. Everything takes about 50 percent longer. Also they need relatively solid ground to run on, and when it rains the field would turn to into a bog and we’d have to lay down tons of gravel to sure up their footing. Horses also get bored and spooked and some perform better than others. They also need an entire separate field to rest in. Oh, and they sh— and piss all the time.
“In fact, one of the hardest scenes to shoot was the parlay between the different factions prior to the actual battle. Getting a bunch of horses to just stand there all day and do nothing is much harder than getting them to run around. They would fart and pee a lot, often in the middle of [star Kit Harington’s] lines.
Of course, the episode contained a couple of riveting sequences from Meereen, as the Masters waged war on Daenerys, before a triple-threat dragon attack swiftly and explosively crushed the uprising.
On that scene, Sapochnik said: “Once it’s all shot, VFX and production constructed a multi directional computer-controlled hydraulic gimbal device shaped like the upper shoulders of the dragon for Emilia Clarke to ride and us to film. Basically it’s her own mini theme park roller-coaster which we shot in Belfast and then composited into the final shots.”
Check out his full interview with Entertainment Weekly.